Monday, August 21, 2006

Policing insurgents--or fighting militant Islam?

Terence J. Daly, a retired military intelligence officer, says that the US should not make killing jihadists its primary goal at today's New York Times.

There is a difference between killing insurgents and fighting an insurgency. In three years, the Sunni insurgency has grown from nothing into a force that threatens our national objective of establishing and maintaining a free, independent and united Iraq. During that time, we have fought insurgents with airstrikes, artillery, the courage and tactical excellence of our forces, and new technology worth billions of dollars. We are further from our goal than we were when we started.

Counterinsurgency is about gaining control of the population, not killing or detaining enemy fighters. A properly planned counterinsurgency campaign moves the population, by stages, from reluctant acceptance of the counterinsurgent force to, ideally, full support.

American soldiers deride "winning hearts and minds" as the equivalent of sitting around a campfire singing "Kumbaya." But in fact it is a sophisticated, multifaceted, even ruthless struggle to wrest control of a population from cunning and often brutal foes. The counterinsurgent must be ready and able to kill insurgents - lots of them - but as a means, not an end.
Daly then proceeds to outline his vision for an American police force that would be charged with securing Iraq alongside more conventional military forces. Daly envisions a force that would be less prone toward "killing people and breaking things" than the military, but still be able to compel the governed.

Stringent population control measures like curfews, random searches, mandatory presentation of identity documents, searches of businesses and residences without warrants and preventive detention would be standing operating procedure. For such measures to be acceptable to the public, they must be based on solid legal ground and enforced fairly, transparently and impartially.
Daly's op-ed inadvertently reveals why the American expedition to Iraq had turned into such a debacle. America's problems are not caused because it lacks an appropriately structured force to establish and maintain "a free, independent and united Iraq;" it is a debacle because such an end has become America's goal in the first place.

Consider for a moment what it took for Saddam to achieve a "united" Iraq-just one leg of today's American mission. Killing fields, rape rooms, foreign invasions, etcetera, each were part of Saddam's arsenal to maintain "unity" between the Kurdish north and the Sunni and Shi'a south. Does anyone, after three years of war, still maintain that any of these three tribes wants to be unified with the others?

Also consider what it would take to achieve an "independent" Iraq. Today, Iraq is wholly dependent upon America for its security, such as it is. There is no force within Iraq that has evidenced even the hope of effectively governing Iraq's disparate elements without massive support from America. All the while, Iran's position in the region strengthens, with the recent victory of Hezbollah in Lebanon, its unchecked nuclear munitions program, and its position as fountainhead of all things jihadist. Iraq, as is, will likely never be independent.

Lastly, consider what it would take to truly make Iraq "free." Political freedom is a consequence of a culture's recognition that coercion is immoral and impractical. It is the fruit of the respect for man's mind as his only tool of survival. How then, after all the years of Islamic mysticism, tyranny and brutality, are the Iraqi people suddenly going to achieve their own philosophic enlightenment? How will the presence of an American policeman, as Daly proposes, convince a jihadist that he does not have a moral right to impose his creed by force and that his attempts at self-martyrdom is nothing more than a brutal nihilistic fetish?

Rather than police Iraq, America ought to be focused on its own security first. It certainly has an host of threats arrayed against it. Freedom for Iraq is not our concern; it would be far better to leave Iraq in civil war and allow it to sort out its own future then let larger threats to America go unchecked. The crisis in Iraq is not the source of jihad-it is the symptom-and until America subdues Islamic terror's spiritual head, its body will continue to thrash about, and continue to put America's own freedom at risk.

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